The other morning, when the surf was big and the sky was clear and the day was glorious and I had it free to do as I pleased, I headed north, in search of beach and a view of the breaking waves. I hadn’t planned to stop at Anini — although stunningly beautiful, it’s not my favorite, because it’s lined with houses — but something told me to turn on the road to it, so I did.
Now Anini isn’t one of those beaches where access to the coastline has been blocked. No, there are several easements running between the lavish homes where the public can reach the shore.
Problem is, once you get to that beautiful white sand you’re kind of screwed, because if there’s any swell at all, and/or the tide is high — when I was there it was dropping — you can’t actually walk along the beach unless you’re willing to go into the water, which was about thigh high on me, and so overhead for Koko.
And why? Because the naupaka and other hedging materials fronting the houses that line the beach have spilled over so far into the public shoreline as to impede lateral access. It was easy to tell that encroachment had occurred because I could clearly see the debris left on the beach by that morning’s high wash of the waves. In some places the yard vegetation extended four, six, eight feet out onto the sand, which was pretty much all it took to hinder movement along the beach.
This picture offers a good example. The high wash of the waves, which marks the extent of the public beach, went all the way into the naupaka on the far left side of the picture, which just happens to be the hedge for the house behind it. You can see that the beach is effectively blocked.
In this picture, you can see where someone kindly cut an opening in the dense hedging material — and this isn’t a species that grows naturally on the beach, so I knew it had been deliberately planted — to allow people to get through. But they are delivered into a small space that is blocked on the other side by more hedging, creating a semi-private cove that no doubt is a selling point for the vacation rental it adjoins.
The houses for which our beach had been sacrificed were empty. Oh, I saw some yard guys mowing the lawn in one place and a cleaner in another, but no one was actually living in them. They were just there, being held in near-perfect readiness for the tourists who can afford the high rents along that stretch of coast, which used to be a place where local families camped. Now it’s been turned into another resort — an exclusive one, where the public is clearly discouraged.
The yards all had their Alert Alarm and Diebold security signs on prominent display. But the owners apparently don't realize it ain’t the public they need to be worried about, it's the ocean they had to build so damn close to. Because one of these days, it’s going to be rushing right through those fricking houses.
Turning my back on the houses, I sat huddled next to one of those hedges on a tiny bit of sand that wasn’t being washed by the waves and gazed at the splendor before me. The waves were rolling in, sending up a cloud of mist that billowed up from Kalihiwai, and beyond that, the lighthouse and Mokuaeae and Crater Hill. The temperature was balmy, and the sky was inhabited by white puffballs. It was picture perfect, but the joyous happiness I’d felt driving up there had been dimmed by what had happened to the beach.
And therein lies the rub. It’s not just that my way had been blocked, but my entire experience of going to the beach had been marred because all of a sudden I was thinking about how fucked up Anini had gotten, when I really just wanted to be there relaxing, enjoying the day and the beach.
I know I’m not the only one who feels that way when confronted with this kind of beach degradation all around the island, particularly on the north shore. So in order to avoid feeling junk, we start avoiding those places. I don’t know how many locals have told me they stay away from this place or that because it’s been handed over to the tourists or you can’t get there or you can’t fish there or they feel so bummed about what’s happened to it, or so uncomfortable with the ritzy resort scene, that they don't want to be there.
But I thought, no, we have to keep coming to these places. We have to keep using them and we have to keep bitching when our access is cut off and private landowners are encroaching on the public beach and the county is allowing people to build too damn close to the water and the state is approving bogus shoreline certifications.
Because if we don’t, if we all just keep going along and allowing this crap to continue, then one day soon — hell, it's happening already — we’re going to turn around and find something very real and tangible — the coastal access that is supposedly so cherished in "all beaches are public" Hawaii — is gone.
Gone in exchange for the money, honey.